The one bad part about an artist as successful as Tom Petty, with or without the Heartbreakers, is that a lot of really great music gets overlooked or forgotten. Such is the fate of the album Echo, which is to my mind one of TP & the Heartbreakers’ best. It’s his divorce album, written and recorded after the end of his first marriage. But unlike many great break-up albums, Petty gave himself a little time to absorb the loss before he committed his feelings to his music. (He also gave himself enough time to almost drink himself into a deep, deep hole, which might have been a contributing factor to his divorce.) It’s not as angry and bitter as these magnum opuses of lost love can be, nor is it morose and depressing. It’s more elegiac and mournful, almost gentle. More circumspect. There isn’t any recrimination or blame, just damn good music.
“Swingin'” has always been one of the best tracks. The defiance and swagger here are trademark Petty, but more muted. He knows this isn’t a happy story and adjusts his typical attitude accordingly. But it is a proud tale of a woman who wasn’t going to give in to whatever is beating her down. She fights back even though she knows she’s probably going to lose. Because in losing this way, she really wins. And she might just take down her adversary, too. I’ve always felt like it was about Jane; I don’t know what happened to their marriage, but I’ll bet that once she’d decided she wasn’t going to put up with Tom’s bullshit anymore, she made sure he knew it. You can feel the blows landing in this song, but it’s okay because it was probably at least a fair fight.
From today’s Los Angeles Times:
“The thing about the Heartbreakers is, it’s still holy to me . . . There’s a holiness there. If that were to go away, I don’t think I would be interested in it, and I don’t think they would. We’re a real rock ‘n’ roll band–always have been. And to us, in the era we came up in, it was a religion in a way. It was about more than commerce, it wasn’t about that. It was about something much greater. It was about moving people and changing the world, and I really believed in rock ‘n’ roll–I still do.”
Yesterday I did my laundry, folded it, and put it away. I read a couple of the articles for this week’s unit in my class. I ate leftover spaghetti for dinner and finished off a nice bottle of Spanish wine. I watched the news. And when Rita Wilde on 100.3 announced that Tom Petty had finally passed on a little before nine pm last night, I cried for ten minutes.
While I consciously cried over losing the voice and physical energy of one of my favorite musicians ever, I also cried all the tears I’d been holding in over what happened the night before in Las Vegas. People doing nothing more than enjoying music were targeted and gunned down for no discernible reason. And I’m still sitting on all the grief and anger I feel over that. (I’m not doing that rant again; it’s just too damn much right now.) I still want to cry. I still might. I slept with a teddy bear last night, which I probably won’t do again. At least not tonight.
I went to yoga class this morning. It’s a “gentle” class, so most of what we do is on the floor. I felt unbalanced and uncentered the whole time, like I was leaning just a little bit to one side or the other. I couldn’t get any equilibrium. I still feel that way. I still feel just a little bit like a hole has been torn into me. It’s going to take a long time for the space Tom left behind will be refilled.
It will, though. I will regain my psychic footing, put together more coherent thoughts, make it through one of his songs without bursting into tears. that’s how the Universe works. Nothing is ever really lost. His energy is still there. And I can still reach out and hold it in my heart.
I dug out the iPod so I could listen to Tom while I was watching the football game last night. For whatever reason, I gravitated to the softer songs. I cried then, too, but it felt like a balm on the wound. This is one of my all-time favorites, from the second Hearbreakers’ album, You’re Gonna Get It. A gentle song about moving on. Time to start doing that.
This post by Kira got me thinking about definitive songs in my life. (Really, it was her reply to my comment, but that’s niggling.) There’s a lot of them; in a sense, that’s kind of what the jukebox is about. But it also reminded me of this turning point in my musical fandom.
I was thirteen or fourteen. My parents and I had gone to Big Ben’s, the music store at our local mall. They were in the video section looking for a movie to rent. (Remember, this was 1982-83, and renting VHS tapes was a pretty new business. The store had converted some of the bins meant to hold vinyl LPs into displays of empty boxes; you took your choice to the counter, and they inserted the videocassette.) I was just wandering around the music half of the store, browsing aimlessly, not looking at anything seriously because I didn’t have any money. I still listened to Top Forty AM radio at this point, so I was pretty sheltered musically speaking. I was a weird, skinny, unpopular kid. I had a few friends, but really hadn’t found my niche yet. I had an older brother who I was pretty sure hated me (I’m still pretty sure about that), and my parents were on the verge of splitting up. Then I heard this music over the store’s sound system.
I was hypnotized. That voice, that music, seemed like it came from another planet. I took my short self over to the tall counter, and asked the clerk what was playing. I think it was a girl, and she pointed to the cover of Long After Dark that was displayed. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I had no idea who those guys were yet, but I was sold. I went to the “P” section, and stared longingly at the album. I almost went and asked my parents if I could have it, but something held me back. I don’t know what drew me to the song, not really. I just remember feeling transformed.
I didn’t see the video for “You Got Lucky” until many years later. It doesn’t really make much sense in the context of the song, but I love it. It captures some of the wonder of discovery that I had in Big Ben’s that evening. This is the song that made me a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fan, and it will probably always be my favorite.
Jim Ladd represents everything I love about the way radio used to be. He is his own programmer, playing “freeform radio,” which is just a cool way to say he picks all the songs he plays. He’s DJ’d at some of the best radio stations in SoCal, and made appearances in numerous other projects.
Of course, he also irritates the living hell out of me. He rambles on and on incessantly, often interrupting the instrumental breaks in songs to spout off some psuedo-hippie, new age style blather about auras and vibrations. He plays way too much Doors music, especially “Riders on the Storm.” And he has an odd fondness for Bob Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.” (That’s a strange, peevish story song from Blood on the Tracks that has never quite fit with the rest of that album.) Ladd thinks far too much of himself, and his role in Rock History.
Of course, he was the inspiration for this song. The whole album, really.
I might find him irritating, especially when I just want to hear music and not some dude blathering on about nothing special and dropping names. But he’s never said anything that isn’t true, at least not as far as I can tell. And he managed to piss off the management at his last local station, 95.5 KLOS, so much that they fired him. That’s sad, because there was a time when guys like Jim Ladd were a little bit like Rock stars, when they were celebrities in their own right. In an ironic twist on his radio purism, he’s taken a job with Sirius. He still does the same thing, but now he does it on satellite radio. If you want to hear Ladd now, you have to “pay for what you used to get for free.”
This is the third time I’ve tried to post today. Something keeps interrupting me, or getting in my way. Currently, it’s my serious lack of typing skills. So I’ve scrapped my original post for today, since I get the feeling the Universe doesn’t want me to post that. Here’s a song for your listening pleasure, that sort of describes how I’ve been feeling all day.
Here’s hoping the next shoe that falls on me isn’t steel-toed.
Happy Government Shutdown!
Picture this: I’m about 21 or 22, at my first Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers show. I’m standing, along with the rest of the crowd, in the cool night air of the Pacific Amphitheater. One song had just ended, and Benmont Tench began playing the opening piano notes of “Straight into Darkness.” Just at that moment, a breeze rose up and blew back my hair, filling me with unbridled joy, and a peace so perfect I still have no words for it today.
For just a few seconds, with the sea breeze in my face and music in my soul, everything was right in the world. There was no pain or time. For just those few seconds, the outside world just disappeared, and left me in a place where nothing was real and everything was possible. Sometimes when I hear this song, I can still feel that moment.
What is your perfect moment? When did you feel everything fall into place, even if just for a few seconds?